Following the anniversary of Steve Irwin’s untimely death, a renewed interest in the video that captured his final moments has sparked questions as to why such footage even exists. Family and friends intend to keep the video hidden from the world, as the events are too shocking and devastating.
This means the Crocodile Hunter will not be remembered for his death, but for all of the incredible things he did while alive.
Filming for his television show turned deadly
On September 4th, 2006, Steve Irwin and his camera crew set out to try and capture some footage of a deadly tiger shark for his television program, Ocean’s Deadliest. After some time spent looking with no luck, Irwin and the crew decided to switch gears and film a nearby eight-foot stingray for his daughter’s television program, Bindi the Jungle Girl.
Stingrays are usually quite docile and harmless, but when Irwin swam over this particular one, it likely thought he and his shadow were a tiger shark, one of its natural predator. This led the sea creature to go into defense mode. The stingray attacked, projecting one of its venomous tail barbs into Irwin’s chest
Steve Irwin was rushed to the hospital
Cameraman Justin Lyons was with Irwin at the time of the attack. At first, he didn’t realize the severity of the situation, but when Irwin said the stingray had punctured his lungs, the team immediately understood. “[The barb] went through his chest like a hot knife through butter,” said Lyons.
When they got Irwin back onto the boat, he was having trouble breathing. They rushed him to the hospital, but the reality was that the barb hadn’t gone through one of his lungs – it had gone straight through his heart.
The cameraman later told biographer Tommy Donovan, “As we’re motoring back I’m screaming at one of the other crew in the boat to put their hands over the wound and we’re saying to him things like, ‘Think of your kids, Steve, hang on, hang on, hang on.'” Unfortunately, Irwin succumbed to his injuries before they reached the hospital.
“Even if we’d been able to get him into an emergency ward at that moment we probably wouldn’t have been able to save him because the damage to his heart was massive,” Lyons continued, adding in a separate interview that Irwin understood his fate. “He just sort of calmly looked up at me and said, ‘I’m dying’ – and that was the last thing he said.”
The tragic incident was caught on tape
The entire event, from the beginning of the day and the attack to the paramedics trying to revive Irwin, was caught on tape. The reason had to do with a strict rule the Crocodile Hunter had when it came to his passion: “always be filming.”
Donovan previously explained, “If he needs help he will ask for it. Even if he is eaten by a shark or croc, the main thing he wants is that it be filmed. If he died he would be sad if no one got it on tape.” As such, when Irwin was attacked by the stingray, Lyons continued to shoot.
After Irwin’s death, the video of the incident was handed over to authorities for investigation. When it was returned to Discovery Communications, the network that skyrocketed him to fame, the company said the footage would “never see the light of day.”
Few have watched the video
John Stainton, producer of The Crocodile Hunter and a close friend of Irwin’s, watched the video. It apparently catches the exact moment when Irwin pulls the barb from his chest before losing consciousness, as well as his journey to the hospital. “It’s a very hard thing to watch because you’re actually witnessing somebody die,” Stainton said.
The only other confirmed viewers of the tape include members of Irwin’s family, crew members and the local police. After having watched the footage, Stainton believes every copy should be destroyed.
One copy still exists
In a 2018 interview with You Magazine, Irwin’s wife, Terri, explained, “After Steve died, 100 million viewers watched video of his death that was released on YouTube.
“That film was a complete fabrication exploiting people’s sadness. I have never watched the real footage. Why would I? I know how my husband died and I was relieved that the children weren’t on the boat as they usually would be; it would have been horrendous if they had witnessed it.”
After her husband’s death, Terri was given a copy of the video. She allegedly destroyed it, having never watched it, but says one copy stills exists somewhere in a police station evidence locker.